Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Navigating Adoption When Your Baby is Suddenly a Tween

It was an ordinary day, doing ordinary things.  But what happened next was abrupt.  Perhaps you've been there, too.

I was looking at one of my daughters and realized she was a tween.  

It was like all the sudden, Doc McStuffins and My Little Ponies and ballies in two-strand twists were no longer acceptable.  It was all about Shopkins, K.C. Undercover, hip hop dancing, asking when she can have her own cell phone, and having sips of coffee with us on Saturday mornings.  

Where did my baby go?!? 

I've done loads and loads of research on what's tweens (considered children ages 9-13) and teens (13+) need, adoption-wise, but now I was living it, not just writing and talking about it.  My research was in books and blog posts, talking to parents of tween and teen adoptees, talking to adoptees themselves, and observation.  

And here's what I've learned:  five things you MUST do if you're parenting a tween adoptee.  

1:  Have the talk.

If you haven't already, now is the time to have "the talk" with your child.  (Now there are two talks in the case of transracial adoption.  The talk I'm referring to here is the body-birds-bees talk.)

The reason?  Well, one, information and education.  This is true of any tween.  But two, I have often said, it's hard to get the "big picture" of adoption if the child doesn't understand conception, pregnancy, birth, and bodies.  I mean, the whole "stork" business is ridiculous, for any child, but especially for an adoptee who has a first set of parents. 

How this should be done is controversial.  A lot depends on your faith, your own upbringing, your history:  but I want to urge you to use correct terminology, give your child factual information, and provide resources that the child can read if/when he or she wants to.  And if you struggle to have this talk with your child (no shame!  many parents do struggle), get some guidance and insight from professionals and other experienced parents of adoptees.  

You also need to talk to them about puberty, privacy, body positivity, stranger awareness, and all sorts of other things!  

I should note, we had this talk with our kids much earlier than the tween years.  I also believe this isn't a singular talk, but an ongoing conversation.

I'm a big fan of talking, but also of giving your child resources that he or she can refer to privately and on his or her own terms, processing the information at their own pace.  

2:  Read up on adoption during (before) these years, and begin sharing more information with your children.

There are some amazing books available to families.  Last year, I interviewed adoption therapist and transracial adoptee Katie Naftzger, on her book Parenting in the Eye of the Storm:  The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.  I encourage you to read the interview and buy her book.

I also have found these books helpful:  

See if there is a tween/teen adoption support group in your area.  Some of my friends take their children to culture camps every summer so their children can connect with other adoptees who share their same race.  Of course, it's never to late to get a mentor for your adoptee as well! 

And remember, empathy is ALWAYS the right answer when your child has feelings about adoption.  It's THEIR journey, and you are along for the ride:  not the other way around.  

3:  Remember that connective parenting doesn't end just because your child is another year older.

If anything, connective parenting is more important than ever before! Refresh your memory on The Connected Child, check out the free videos on the Empowered to Connect website (I cannot tell you how many times I've frantically looked up a video there!), and remember the core principles you used up until this point.   This is a good time for you and your partner to create a new parenting plan, adjusted to meet your child's needs and situation. 

Tween hormones:  they will be one of your greatest challenges.  Be sure to refer to point #1, and tell your child:  hormones can make you have mood swings, they can make you feel more emotions more intensely: and this is normal.  Talk to your child about how some methods and tools to deal with their feelings.  AND, recommit to connective parenting, because Lordy, you're going to need it!   

One thing we do, that I shared in a prior post, is take our kids on dates.  There is no reason for this to stop just because your child is a tween (or teen).  Though he or she may begin toddler wave #2, seeking independence and some isolation from parents, it doesn't mean this is what you have to accept as the family standard.  Take your child on dates that he or she enjoys, preferably ones that involve interacting, such as going to your tween's favorite restaurant together for dinner (vs. something like going to a movie, where you aren't speaking to each other).  

4:  Seek professional help.

If your family doesn't have an attachment-connective-adoption- competent mental health professional on stand-by, this is the time to find one.  Even if your child seems totally fine, there is no harm in having a go-to person if the need arises.  (My friend Madeleine Melcher, an adoptee and mom by adoption, advises in her book that parents shouldn't "borrow trouble"---meaning, don't put issues on your child that he/she doesn't have, but also realize you know your child best and need to do what he or she needs:  a sacred parenting balance.)  Also, my reading of adoptees has taught me that they often hide their true feelings for a number of reasons, one of which is because they are fearful to upset or hurt their parents.  Having a neutral, third party available is a safety net for parents and children.

I think it's important to share that some generations and some individuals still subscribe to mental health stigmas.  They might feel shame seeking professional help or feel that such services are only for "other people" who have big problems.  This simply isn't true.  Mental health services can be incredibly beneficial to anyone.  If you find yourself hesitant to seek professional help for your child and/or your family, because of your own beliefs, work to overcome those so that you do not avoid giving your family what they need to be successful!   One way to do this is to seek counseling as an individual, to "test out the waters."  

5:  That other (critical) talk.

If you've adopted transracially, this is also a good time to have a more in-depth conversation with your child about the realities of being a person of color and interactions with police, as well as the broader issues of racism.  Like the "birds and the bees" talk I referred to in point #1, the other talk is NOT a one-time talk, but an ongoing conversation.   There are resources available to families for these conversations, but first, you must yourself have an understanding of race in America.  You can check out this prior post on five books I recommend you read.  

I urge you to talk to your friends of color to assist you in talking to your child.  This is NOT the time to be prideful:  rather, you NEED trusted friends of color to help you parent your child.  As your child is increasingly independent, you'll need to have these conversations again and again, preparing them for facing police encounters without the umbrella of your white privilege.

Parenting our tweens is an honor, but it's also a major responsibility.  How have you navigated the tween years so far?  Or what are you doing to prepare to do so?  

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